The Catskill Mountains of upstate New York offer an all-in-one package for stressed city dwellers looking to relax off the beaten path and out of staters alike. The pristine, scenic views that stretch on for miles, centuries old historic places, undisturbed wilderness, and even modern venues offer something for everybody to enjoy.
The Catskill Mountains begin northwest of New York City and extend just southwest of Albany, New York. Six New York counties are part of the range-Sullivan County, Ulster County, Delaware County, Otsego County, Schoharie County, and Greene County. Towns with distinct and unique attributes include Monticello, Delhi, Bethel, Woodstock, Roscoe, and Hunter; just to name a few. The Catskill Forest Preserve is 286,000 acres of state owned public land. This huge area of conserved wilderness is a bountiful resource for all nature lovers.
The popularity of the Catskills goes all the way back to the days of booming industries such as tanneries and logging. The Catskills also became home to many sanitariums to treat patients of tuberculosis. It was thought that the clean mountain air helped patients recover. In the 1950s, Sullivan County gained notoriety as a haven for New York City residents to spend their summers at. Summer camps, bungalow colonies, and hotels sprung up to house the mass exodus of summer visitors. It was at these hotels, in the “Borscht Belt” as it came to be known, that many well known names got their start. Jerry Lewis, Buddy Hackett, Red Buttons, and others all got their start at these Catskills hotels. Unfortunately, only one hotel from that heyday still exists in operation today-Kutscher’s Hotel in Monticello, New York. Kutschers hosts an Indie rock festival every year. Definitely visit for a walk back in time. Even though much of the Catskills’ history has been lost in time, there is still plenty to see and do.
For the nature lover and adventurer there is camping, fishing, boating, hiking, kayaking/rafting, horseback riding, skiing, and hunting. Roscoe, New York is home to one of the world’s finest trout fisheries. Junction Pool is formed by the convergence of the Willowemoc and West Branch Delaware rivers. The season opener on April 1st of every year is a huge event attended by politicians, fishermen, and celebrities alike. Other rivers teeming with excellent fishing is the Delaware River, Neversink River, and the East Branch Delaware. The Delaware also offers a wonderful river experience; you can lazily relax in it’s meandering pools, or challenge rapids up to class 3 and 4. When it’s time to call it a day, you can rest overnight at one of the many campsites along the banks of the river. Lander’s River Trips in Narrowsburg, New York rents out watercraft and runs buses up and down the river to transport their customers back to home base. Lander’s also runs exciting paintball courses.
The reservoirs of the Catskills- Swinging Bridge, Toronto, Neversink, Ashokan, Rondout, and Rio all offer stunning fishing opportunities in waters so clean; New York City relies on several of them for it’s water supply. The Catskill Preserve is loaded with game for the hunter. Native wildlife include white-tail deer, black bear, coyotes, bobcats, fox, rabbits, wild turkey, pheasant, and ducks. Need a place to camp? Mongaup Pond in Livingston Manor, New York is a campground maintained by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Located on the banks of Mongaup Pond; the campground offers boating, swimming, BBQ pits, electric hook-up, fishing, and bathroom facilities with showers. Just down the road from there is a trout hatchery and kids’ summer camp. KOA RV parks are also scattered throughout the entire area. The Yogi Bear Adventure Park in Greenfield Park, New York is a kid-oriented getaway featuring cabins and a small water park.
While summer sees the largest increase in tourists to the area, the fall is a great time to visit. The strikingly beautiful contrast of red, yellow, and orange leaves is second to none. There are several scenic routes to travel on for overwhelming views of valleys, rolling farmlands, and mountain vistas. Route 55 out of Neversink, New York; Route 28 from Margaretville; Debruce Road Livingston Manor to County Route 47 through the heart of the Catskill Preserve; Route 30 from Downsville; and Route 206 out of Roscoe will not leave you disappointed. Lastly, while it is just out of the scope of the Catskills, along Route 97 outside of Port Jervis is the Hawk’s Nest. Intimidating cliff walls on one side and a stone wall separating you from the river valley below accompany you along this winding road that has been featured in many car commercials. Visit around dusk for the best experience.
If nature is really not your thing, no worries. Venues include art galleries, music, fine dining, historic tours, and festivals. Monticello Gaming & Raceway, located in Monticello; is a “racino” featuring video slot machines, live entertainment, restaurants on premises, and harness racing. Just a few miles up the road in Bethel is Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. This venue hosts concerts during the summer featuring popular acts such as Rascal Flatts, Brooks & Dunn, Santana, and the New York Philharmonic. It’s built on the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival. There is also a museum there dedicated to the history of Woodstock. For a more personal Woodstock experience, every year Hector’s bar (just down the road) hosts a mass migration of hippies reliving that weekend and the younger crowd looking to party. Grahamsville hosts the Little World’s Fair every summer, a charming carnival for all ages. For the LBGT crowd, Narrowsburg has the Day to be Gay festival; which in all honesty is a fun enjoyment for those of any orientation. Woodstock, New York is home to the Woodstock Film Festival. Every year this festival showcases the revealing of new Indie films and is attended by many celebrities. Loaded with Bohemia flavor, the local shops in Woodstock are definitely worth a look while in town. The above mentioned venues are just a handful of places to see in the Catskills. Every town has it’s own personality that is worth at least a drive through.
Winter vacationers have a good selection of ski resorts to go to. Belleayre in Hunter, New York; Holiday Mountain in Rock Hill, Frost Valley in Claryville (more for the kids), and the Villa Roma (of Dirty Dancing fame) in Callicoon are a few to name. All cater to downhill skiers, cross-country, tubing, sledders, and snowboarders from novices to black diamond experts. Grab some hot cocoa and have some relaxing family fun at the Ice Carnival in Livingston Manor every year. Try your luck in landing the biggest fish at the ice fishing contests in White Lake and Swinging Bridge Reservoir in Mongaup Valley that attract contestants from all over the Northeast.
Love racing? Twice a year Rally New York comes to the Catskills. This event features offroad rally racing at it’s best. Racers from the United States, Ireland, England, and other countries race Mitsubishi Eclipses, Subaru WRXs, Eagle Talons, and other brands through the rough terrain of Ulster and Sullivan counties. Bethel Motor Speedway in Kauneonga Lake, Accord Speedway in Accord, and Afton Speedway in Afton offer exciting circle track racing on weekend nights. The Monticello Motor Club in Monticello is a newer venue featuring road course racing of higher end cars such as Porsches, Ferraris, Lotus’s, and Lamborghinis. Members of this track include Jay Leno, Mario Andretti, and Jeff Gordon.
There is dining and watering holes for every taste. The more populated towns such as Monticello, Liberty, and Ellenville are the places to go to find fast food and your basic menagerie of diners, pizza joints, and restaurants from all ethnicities. Visit the small towns for a more personable dining experience. Some recommended places are Lakeside 55 in Kauneonga Lake, the Rockland House in Roscoe, the Homestead in Rock Hill, Mr Willys in Monticello, Bernie’s in Rock Hill, Front Porch Cafe in White Lake, and Friends Restaurant in Smallwood. No nightclubs at the moment, but almost every town has a wide selection of bars. Want to see a real distillery? Visit the Dancing Cat Saloon on Route 17b, right by Bethel Woods. Neversink, New York is one of the few dry towns left though.
Other than campgrounds, hotel chain lodging can be found in Monticello and Liberty. Choices include Best Western, Days Inn, Ramada Inn, and Econo Lodge. Family owned hotels can also be found. The Travel Inn and Kutschers in Monticello offer many amenities and off the beaten path you have The Fosterdale Motor Lodge in Cochecton and the Villa Roma Resort in Callicoon. The Villa Roma is truly the best bang for your buck. Located among rolling hills and farms, the hotel has amenities such as boutique shopping, honeymoon suites, huge gym, indoor/outdoor sports such a squash and tennis, horseback riding, indoor and outdoor swimming, choice of two bars, bowling, arcade, auditorium sized conference rooms, comedy acts, golf course, skiing, and townhouse style timeshares. Rates in the area range from $60-$150 per night, depending on amenities and hotel. Bed & breakfasts throughout the Catskills offer a more comforts of home experience. Monticello also has a 24 hour WalMart for those last minute or I-forgot-to-grab supplies.
This guide only begins to touch the surface of things to do and see in the Catskills. The Catskills are definitely a top choice of vacation spots on a budget. Grab your tent, camper, or hotel room and get ready to experience a vacation like no other.